In two World Cups with the Swedish national team, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has yet to score a goal. At 32, it’s safe to assume that the 2014 World Cup, if he manages to get past Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo, will be his last.
An incredible club career with league titles in four different leagues, being crowned champion 10 times out of the last 12 seasons, although the two Juventus championships were stripped from him and his team in 2006.
Champions League? He might have to end his career without winning the most prestigious club trophy in the world, but that shouldn’t hurt the legacy of the world’s best striker for the last 12-13 years and one of the more interesting figures to follow in a sport that doesn’t have enough players and individuals like Ibrahimovic, who makes things more interesting on the pitch and off of it no matter the circumstances.
So what’s missing from his resume? Winning the World Cup with Sweden doesn’t sound reasonable. He has made it to the big stage twice with the team, and has also been to the Euro three times. That’s more than enough, right?
There has always been a claim about Ibrahimovic – not being up for big matches in big occasions. It’s all relative, but it usually refers to his lack of success in the Champions League, usually bowing out even before the semifinal for most of his career. Not scoring in the World Cup falls into that category, playing five matches on his two visits to the tournament.
In 2002, that weird competition in Japan and South Korea, Ibrahimovic was a bench player coming in twice for the final minutes, including in the round of 16 loss to Senegal. In 2006, he played three times as Sweden once again made it to the round of 16, only losing to Germany 2-0. Despite his remarkable record of 46 goals in 94 caps for the national team, none of them came on the world’s biggest stage.
To say Ibrahimovic deserves another chance might be a bit exaggerating. He’s done and accomplished quite a lot in his carer, and one more or less World Cup won’t change his legacy, probably. But knowing that at 32 he’s probably heading into his final chance of leading Sweden to the World Cup makes it something special. Who knows, the way he’s playing and scoring, there’s no reason he won’t be around in a meaningful capacity four years from now, but things change quickly for footballers at his age, sometimes without any kind of warning.
Portugal might be a better side than Sweden, but there’s no doubt that they had an awful qualifying campaign, which included drawing twice with Israel in their group. Sweden held Germany to a 4-4 draw in Germany, and were far more enjoyable to watch overall. Does it make them more deserving? Possibly, but fair doesn’t come into the equation in football. Sometimes even being the better team or player isn’t enough as well.